Apple Snatches Google's Head of AI to Vastly Improve Siri and More

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Apple has hired Google's former head of search and artificial intelligence John Giannandrea.

Whether or not making computers smarter and more personal means improving search features with AI remains to be seen. The leaders in these domains not only shape the path for technologies but refine them to an extent that it gets infused easily in an average human mind. The announcement comes only a day after Jeff Dean replaced Giannandrea at Google. He came to the company when Google acquired a firm called Metaweb in 2010.

It's not clear from statements and published reports why Giannandrea made a decision to leave Google or join Apple.

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Aside from running Apple's highly secretive A.I. and machine learning division, reports also said that John Giannandrea would be one of the 16 executives that directly report to Timothy Cook, Apple's chief executive. As Google's machine learning guru, Giannandrea helped integrate deep learning AI into a number of products, most prominently Google Assistant. He will also attract and recruit the top-tier talent that Apple has been lacking. On the contrary, the company didn't even publish AI research until 2016, a common practice among AI researchers at Facebook and Google. In terms of quality, Apple Siri is way behind Google Assistant, which uses the same ground-breaking algorithms that power Google Translate and Google search image. There are surely more applications of machine learning planned in the future; Giannandrea would likely spearhead those efforts. Apple has invested in Siri and HomeKit to compete with Google Home and Alexa-based smart home systems.

While Apple wants to explore building services with neural networks, it wants to do so without compromising the privacy of user data. True both the companies are often pulled up for their less than impressive track record for adhering to user privacy, but its seems Apple has to walk the fine line between upholding acceptable levels of data privacy and pushing ahead with its AI goals. Engineers with AI expertise are in high demand at the Silicon Valley right now, sometimes fetching salaries exceeding eight figures.

On the debate over whether humanity should be anxious about the rapidly accelerating improvements in AI, Giannandrea told MIT Technology Review in an interview a year ago that the concerns were overblown.

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